The difference between DR and BC often depends on the person you’re talking to. It’s one of those grey areas, where definitions are sometimes arbitrary and no universal standard definition exists. The two terms not only evoke different meanings, but provoke different reactions in organisational management. Disaster recovery may be largely ignored because “disaster” is such an extreme and improbable concept. Business continuity is easier to grapple with its suggestion of different degrees of keeping your business going: anything from upgrading a server, to replacing a key VP on maternity leave, to handling an impending hurricane. Yet, there’s a least one simple way to resolve the matter.
What clouds the issue is history. Disaster recovery came primarily from an IT context. Business continuity was more of a top down embrace-everything approach, that included IT but was not limited to it. DR now extends to anything that could stop an organisation in its tracks. However, it’s hard for many people to shrug off the original meaning tied so closely to IT. Even today, some definitions have DR focus on restoration of technology-oriented services, and BC on the recovery of business-oriented services. Others define business continuity as proactive, in avoiding or mitigating the impact of a risk; disaster recovery is then reactive, restoring a business-as-usual situation after a risk becomes reality.
What we can say is that disaster recovery and business continuity between them have to provide everything that’s necessary to put problems right and to continue functioning while that’s happening. Where the border line is between DR and BC may vary from one enterprise to another, but that’s not the issue. It’s like the frontiers between marketing and R&D, or manufacturing and logistics. Different organisations have different ways of structuring these. The only test to know if the dividing line is in the right place is to see if the organisation could be more efficient and more resilient by moving it one way or the other.